Once upon a time not so very long ago, I decided I would like short stories. Not that I did like short stories, that I would like short stories. This is rather a bizarre decision because but for a few in high school that survived rigorous overanalyzation and still came out on top, I don't have much of a track record with the things. I either don't read them, or read them and don't understand or very much enjoy them. I get a brief peak into some situation or characters and it's not enough to answer all the questions burning in my mind, which is also startlingly ironic considering I don't have an inquiring mind at all. It's why I don't do author interviews. It's why I'm no good at keeping small talk going. It's probably why I do such a dismal job at interviewing for jobs. Questions just don't burn in my mind begging for answers. At least, not at the right times.
Nonetheless, I saw all the bloggers reading the short stories and loving them and figured I was missing out on some crucial reading experience (or, my childish mind at that moment whined, "I want to be like the cool kids!"). They were stories, they were short, other people liked them, and they make for an easy blog post for your local lit blogger, no? "What's not to like?" my easily rationalized mind asked, and so I set about acquiring them. I bought authors' collections of short stories. I stretched out my hand for an anthology or two. I won one in a blog contest. I grabbed a review copy of one. When I saw that my mom was being offered a great price, I even subscribed to a year of the New Yorker ("Oooh, cheap! And they have short stories!")...and then another. Having done all this, I think in the year and maybe a half that I've been blogging I have read a grand total of two, both compliments of the only two New Yorkers I've managed to read cover to cover, and it does demand to be read cover to cover, you know. The first was a selection by Louise Erdrich, of whose books I have read two. One which was excellent, one of my favorites, and one which left me oh so cold. The short story followed in the trail of the latter. I didn't understand it or think it had enough of a point to even make a blog post about it.
Now I've read this second one, and I didn't particularly like it either, but I do like to think that maybe I understood it. So, I thought, why not start a totally irregular blog feature wherein I duel with short stories (*ahem* comment on them and announce whether or not the story "beat" me or not)? You can expect to see this feature maybe twice in the next year if I keep up with my dismal track record. Keep in mind, of course, that my viewpoint may be slightly skewed considering the fact that there is no evidence on record to suggest that I might actually like any short story.
But anyway, the short story.
Having read the rest of the March 24, 2008 issue (yes, I know, almost a year old, Megan) complete with charming essay about getting a little too friendly with spiders by David Sedaris and a mildly intriguing story about a chef opening up a new restaurant, I found "The Region of Unlikeness" by Rivka Galchen whose debut novel is apparently forthcoming.
"...In Augustine's view, we live in what he calls the region of unlikeness, and what we're unlike is God. We are apart from God, who is pure being, who is himself, who is outside of time. And time is our tragedy, the substance we have to wade through as we try to move closer to God. Rivers flowing to the sea, a flame reaching upward, a bird homing: these movements represent objects yearning to be their true selves, to achieve their true states. For humans, the motion reflects the yearning for God, and everything we do through time comes from moving - or at least trying to move - toward God. So that we can be...our true selves. So there's a paradox there again, that we must submit to God - which feels deceptively like not being ourselves - in order to become ourselves..."
The story is about an unnamed female narrator who by chance (or is it?) happens upon a pair of men having an intellectually pompous discussion about Wuthering Heights in a coffee shop on the Upper West Side. Having thus encountered the two men, Jacob and Ilan, the narrator is drawn into their society despite her dislike for Jacob who is rather a boor (or is it bore?). Something like love develops between the narrator and Ilan, but then the latter disappears all of a sudden. Despite efforts to pin down Jacob, the narrator can't seem to get a straight answer out of him as to Ilan's whereabouts. As the narrator goes about trying to convince herself that she shouldn't need to find Ilan yet can't stop herself from wondering and looking, a sense of unreality prevails.
As it turns out, the narrator's relationship with the two men is more complex than she can imagine. I won't ruin the surprise, but it involves time travel, the grandfather paradox, and inescapable fate a la Oedipus. In other words, I'll admit that it was rather intriguing and thought-provoking, but as usual when it comes to my reading of short stories, even after thinking it through and arriving at what may actually be the "right" conclusion about the events that transpired in the story, I still feel like I very well might have missed something crucial and am thus left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.
Short stories: 1, Megan: 0